The planning system delivers…….at last

2005 seems a long time ago, and was the year I first started out as a Planner at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Fast forward 10 years and in the last days of 2015, the Council finally adopted their Local Plan (or ‘Local Plan Part 2’ – the second bit after the Core Strategy, which has now been re-branded as ‘Part 1’).

You may be finding the terminology slightly confusing and you would not be alone. You see, it is all to do with the ‘simplification’ of the planning system. Successive Government’s have had goes at making the system fast, easier, cheaper…. yes, you get the picture.

Try telling that to one landowner who has been waiting for over a decade. We have been assisting Mr Whitehead whose land appeared to have been inadvertently identified as ‘open space’ in the last Local Plan, due to it being sited next to a larger area of green space. Well, that’s our view – and now one also shared by the Council and the Planning Inspector examining the Local Plan.

So, whilst we start 2016 on a positive note, providing advice to this landowner on obtaining planning permission for apartments on this newly re-designated site, we are left thinking what may have been if we had a ‘simplified’ and responsive planning system.

The end however may be in site. Some commentators point to the Government losing its patience with Council’s who fail to deliver Local Plans,with powers to intervene to be unleashed, if they are not in place by early 2017. We’re not holding our breath just yet but there must be relief for one Local Planning Authority at least!

No planning permission? Be prepared to face the new consequences

There is nothing that gets people’s backs up more than somebody who has built without planning permission. It’s also probably one of the most frequently expressed frustrations at Planning Committee meetings. I’m not talking about the case of Mr Fidler, who built an entire castle in the Surrey Green Belt without planning permission! Council’s taking action against those that have infringed planning law will usually provide the developer with an invitation to submit a retrospective planning application.

Such retrospective applications have however, until recently, always been assessed on the planning merits of the scheme, in the same way as other planning applications. However in the Autumn of 2015, in his first letter to Chief Planning Officers following the May General Election, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Chief Planner Steve Quartermain set out revisions to national planning policy that would make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration. The note, which states the policy came into effect from 1st September, made explicit reference to the “expensive and time-consuming enforcement action” that unlawful development often prompts.

We have been analysing the reaction of many commentators who have questioned the effectiveness of these changes. Rather than reducing the workload of enforcement teams, many feel they will actually see an increase. If the Chief Planner’s correspondence makes Council’s and Inspector’s more confident about refusing retrospective applications for unauthorised development, there will surely be more refusals to enforce! Yet, with enforcement teams already struggling to manage their existing workload, and with a continued reduction in staffing numbers, their ability to handle more cases is doubtful.

So, bound to fail if not properly resourced?

It is too early to say how this will work in practice; presumably it will only be a justification for refusing a scheme where there has actually been harm arising as a result of the development, which cannot be mitigated, rather than having an impact on all retrospective applications?In which case, we see little change from the status quo!

..and then there is the question of intention? It could prove problematic in proving someone intentionally and not inadvertently carried out development unless, say, they continued to operate a use after being warned by the Local Planning Authority that they required permission.

The impact of this new policy is yet to be seen. What is clear however is the steps taken by the Government in recent years will certainly make the risk of carrying out development without planning permission less attractive!To this extent, it may, as Minister’s believehave a preventative effect. We may start seeing applications that are otherwise acceptable and in compliance with the development plan being refused, simply because they were commenced without in breach without first obtaining the necessary consent?

The mere threat of enforcement action can lead to a great deal of stress and worry.  At times like this it’s best to seek the right professional advice. As Chartered Town Planners, we can alleviate the worry by carefully guiding you through your options and have a track record in liaising with local authorities in such circumstances.